All Hail! The King or Queen

By: Tina Sebestyen

The queen I am referring to is the president of the bee club. Of course, not all bee club presidents are female.

Until fairly recent history, it was thought that the honey bee colony was presided over by a king, so our metaphor still works. All Hail the Queen, or King.  Running a bee club takes an amazing amount of time, energy, and both hutzpah and humility. People automatically assume that the president is an expert beekeeper. This puts even more pressure on him or her. The new leader of my bee club, Four Corners Beekeepers, realized this and put some thought into it before putting her name in the hat at our last election. She took the title “Chair of the Board”, to make it clear that she is not a bee expert, and that running a bee club should be a team effort rather than a one woman show. She has enough hutzpah to stand in front of a room full of people and run a meeting, and enough humility to ask for help with the nitty-gritty of beekeeper education, program ideas, and mentoring. We need to respect these brave souls who run our bee clubs.

In the same way that it appears that the queen keeps a bee hive running smoothly, but who is in actuality governed and guided by the workers who polish cells for eggs to be laid in, by the amount of royal jelly she is fed, and by the pheromones of the other residents of the hive, our bee club president appears to be ruling the bee club. There are many ways we can “polish the cells, or influence pheromone components” for our bee club queen or king, while maintaining respect for them and their position.

The first and most important thing a bee club member can do to improve the meetings is to be there. Even if the meeting topic sounds lame to you, attend anyway. Besides the meeting topic, there will be wide-ranging discussion about beekeeping. Most bee club meetings include Q & A. There is also time before and after the meeting when beekeepers are socializing. Imagine that you have a question about splitting your colonies this spring. You know your president is not a beekeeping expert, and the meeting speaker is not, either, so you think you will not bother going to the meeting. Too bad for you. Someone asks the very question you had in mind. Five people in the crowd talk about new techniques they have learned in the past couple of years, and everyone but you gets five new ideas to make their split more successful. Or, maybe you do not have a burning question. Maybe you are one of those five people who have an idea to help answer someone else’s burning question. Even if you are the most experienced beekeeper in your club, if you attend the meetings and participate in events, you will learn something. I am always amazed by the creative ideas that people have, things I never would have thought of that might improve something that seemed fine, but now can be better.

What if your bee club meetings are always lame? Ideas for great meetings do not always Spring from the president’s own head, you know. Your president needs communication from you. Maybe writing them a note saying “these are the topics I think meetings should cover this year,” is not the best idea. It is easy for an experienced beekeeping president to forget what they needed to learn in their second or third year, and it is difficult for a newer beekeeper to imagine what they are going to need to learn this year. Feedback from the membership is often where good ideas for meetings come from. A note to the president that says, “I am wondering about…” or, “I need help learning how to…” helps them know what is needed. If your question is not addressed, be brave enough to raise your hand at the end of the meeting, and ask. I guarantee that there are others in the crowd that will thank you for being brave enough to speak.

Another area that courage from the membership would help is in asking stupid questions. There really are no stupid questions. I was with a small group of beekeepers recently when one admitted they had a stupid question. Every eye was instantly riveted on this brave soul, and as it turned out, half of the people in the group admitted to having the same stupid question, but no one had been brave enough to stand up at the meeting and ask. Half the people at our recent meeting probably had the same question. What a shame. Be brave! You will be thanked for it.

Volunteering to help with events is a great way to increase educational opportunities in your club. Beekeepers who read a lot are the most successful. A bee book club helps promote self-education among the members. Meeting outside the regular bee club meeting to discuss a chapter of the chosen book provides great opportunities to also discuss goings-on in the beeyard. You don’t even need to choose a book. Getting together to discuss the contents of Bee Culture can be a great way to get people started in the good habit of reading about bees.

Beth at travelling show.

You do not need to be an expert beekeeper to teach new-bees, either. Contact your president and volunteer (are you starting to notice a pattern here?)  to invite the bee club over to your apiary next time you do a powdered sugar roll for mites, split a colony, or even for just a routine inspection. Practice that balance of hutzpah and humility. Ask how others in the crowd have done it. You might learn something at the same time you help others.

Helping find speakers for meetings might be a way you could take a load off of the president. Contact your president with your idea for a topic. Suggest a name or two of people who might be able to address this topic. Volunteer to contact the potential speaker. Most bee clubs charge a small membership fee. This really adds up over time, and there is no better way to spend that money than on education of the membership. As an example, you would like to learn more about diagnosing and treating bee diseases. No one in your club has the expertise you need. Is there a commercial beekeeper within 100 miles? Call them up and volunteer to pay for their gas and a small speaker fee. Or, is there a state or local apiary inspector?  Invite them to speak. Write to your state’s University extension program. Maybe a neighboring state has an apiary inspector you could recruit for this talk. Be creative and never give up. Here in Colorado we do not have an apiary inspection program, nor does our University extension have a very robust beekeeping program. But, there is an apiary inspector in the state of Utah. We could probably get him to come give us a talk for $200. If your club does not have the funds, charge a small fee.  If 20 people attend and pay $10 each, you have it covered.

Mite management is crucial to bee survival. Even if your club is dedicated to treatment free beekeeping, mites must be addressed with Integrated Pest Management. If this issue is not being addressed, one thing you as a member could do is to contact your president and volunteer (there’s that pattern again) to form a study group that will research this topic and share what you have learned at the next meeting. This idea can work for any topic. Most presidents will welcome the help and expertise that will be gained through this.

Just as the president should not hold the sole responsibility in making things happen at the bee club, one member does not need to hold the sole responsibility in volunteering for everything all the time. If someone in your club has a gift or knowledge that could be shared, they may not even realize it. Mention to the president that Joe Blow has a cool method for putting woodenware together and having everything come out square, maybe we could get him to do a little demo. Most often in my past presidency, volunteers were few and far between. Recruitment, though, is very effective. People think someone else will step up. Or, they do not realize that they have something of value to share. Most people feel honored to be asked to help with something at the bee club, so ask!

Probably the toughest situation a bee club can face is the president who has the hutzpah, but not the humility, to do the job. This person runs for the presidency, and let’s admit it, everyone is grateful for someone else to do all that work. Once they are president, it becomes evident that they love to hear themselves speak, are not an experienced beekeeper, or worse, they are a bad beekeeper who doesn’t know it. They never invite or allow anyone else to be the speaker at meetings. They never ask for help, never ask questions of others, and refuse to entertain ideas like bee book clubs or apiary visits run by anyone besides themselves. They might even keep certain topics from being addressed in Q & A time. Someone who cares is going to have to gain enough hutzpah of their own to run for president. In the meantime, you could stand up at the end of the monthly meeting and announce that you would like to start a discussion or study group on a particular topic. There may be a sub-set of people in the club who have interests in line with your own. Keeping in mind the goal of increasing the education available to the members of the bee club will help keep this from becoming a personal rivalry.

Probably the most important thing to remember if you want to help improve your bee club is that the other people are just like you. They have the same stupid questions, struggle with the same challenges in hive management, and need answers just the same as you. Even the president is the same as you. Just like you, they will welcome assistance and ideas if presented respectfully. Finally, the president is just like you in the need for reassurance. Good words make the world go ‘round. If your president is doing something well, send them a note and say thanks! If you have the perfect bee club president, those good words will help keep the King or Queen on the throne, and if you do not have the perfect bee club president, your positivity will encourage more good work. All Hail the Queen! (or King).

Tina has been hooked on beekeeping since 2007 in top bar, Langstroth, and more recently, the long Langstroth hive. She is founder of the Four Corners Beekeepers Assn, and vice president of the CO State Beekeepers Assn.